Dr. Ernest Blovings hissed through perfect, white teeth and jabbed at the call button once again.
“Facilities. What is it?” a voice crackled out of the tiny speaker.
“Yes, this is Dr. Blovings again, on deck twenty-two? I reported, not less than one hour ago, that the gravitron in my lavatory is malfunctioning. There is now an increasing amount of fecal matter floating about the lavatory, and I was promised someone would be right up to deal with this.
“They’re on their way, doc.”
Dr. Blovings was just sitting down when there was a knock at the door. “Now, that’s more like it,” he said under his breath as he strode to the door. The pneumatic door slid open with a whoosh.
Two men in stained jumpsuits and blank expressions stood side by side in the hall: a fat one with his arms folded, a toothpick sticking out of the side of his mouth, and a tall, lanky one with a filth-encrusted tool resting on his shoulder.
“Dr. Blovings, I presume?” This from fatso.
“Yes, yes. Please come in. The head is just over here.”
The lanky one said, “The heads are all in the same place in each cabin, doc. We know where it’s at.”
Blovings stared at them. A rat and an ape, he thought to himself. “Then I’ll leave you to your repairs.”
The plumbers went to the lavatory door and appeared to do nothing but titter and look back over their shoulders at Blovings.
After a few minutes, the fat one turned around and said, “Alright, doc. We got your problem figured out, but we can’t fix it from in here. The venting duct is blocked. So we’ll need to spacewalk and snake it from the outside. That’s gonna require divisional clearance. Maybe take a week. We could get you moved to another cabin until then.”
“Blocked? Blocked with what?” The doctor turned red.
“Dunno,” Lanky said, and then looked at his partner, “maybe with some…fecal matter.” They snorted and chucked each other in the sides with their elbows.
Blovings chose to ignore their sophomoric behavior. He had bigger things to deal with.
“What happens if we just force the door open?” he asked.
Lanky said, “Don’t wanna do that. You’d have a gravitational cross-rip.”
“Think of it this way, doc,” Lanky said. “The environment in your head is right now normalized to the pressure gradient of space right outside your window here. Outer space. The pressure sensors around the door to the head picked up the difference after the discharge vent got blocked and the gravitron stopped functioning. Just like they’re s’posed to. The sensors then locked this door down to prevent a gravitational cross-rip. If we were to open it or, say, break the glass here in the door, we’d be torn apart. Not to mention the potential damage to the station and probable further loss of life.”
Blovings stood in front of them, slack-jawed, and said, “Gravitational cross-rip.”
The plumbers nodded in unison, looking sympathetic.
Blovings puffed himself up, stood taller. “Gravitational cross-rip? I’ve never heard such nonsense. Gentlemen, I have Doctorates in both Particle Physics and Continuum Mechanics. And there is no such thing as a gravitational cross-rip!”
“Suit yourself, doc. You can try to open the door and take care of your little problem all by yourself then. Just let us get a few decks away from here. Good luck, doc.”
They packed up their tools and left.
Blovings looked through the window into the head. Large globules of shit pulsed and undulated in the zero gravity chamber. Like a smelly lava lamp, he thought to himself.
Luckily, the idiots hadn’t looked too closely. In all their haste to make fun of him and avoid doing their jobs, they’d overlooked the girl’s hand sticking right out of the venting duct.
He thought he’d get the plumbers to open the vent and then he could kill them too.
But then they came out with all that ‘gravitational cross-rip’ shit. He didn’t believe a word of it. All he had to do was break the window and let the pressure normalize. Then clean everything up.
He grabbed an iron bar and swung it at the glass. Gravitational cross-rip, my ass.
The plumbers were just getting back to facilities when the space station shook violently.
Okay, I have to admit this is not an original concept. In Damon Knight’s superb book “Creating Short Fiction”, he muses about space plumbers as a concept to build a story around. I mean, given the fact that someday we may all just have to live in space stations, surrounded by galactic oceans of zero-gravity, the guys (and gals!) who ensure our waste goes where it should will be in huge demand. Just as they are now, in our gravity-laden lives. I had a vision of these two guys, smart-asses, but savvy enough to present their ideas in such a way that it would be impossible to tell if they were serious or just having you on. The awful truth about Dr. Blovings just popped into existence and took me completely by surprise.